Manufacturers of driverless cars have long been plotting to have their autonomous vehicles ready for commercial sales by approximately 2020. This date was crafted because this is when the technology is supposed to be ready, refined and safe. Now, with the support from the US government, the bureaucratic red tape that could have potentially pushed back this release date has been cut.
A March 2016 poll by the AAA discovered that 75% of Americans are not ready to embrace the self-driving car. The United States government, on the other hand, is. Jeffery Zients, the director of National Economic Council, was quoted in the New York Times saying, ““We envision in the future; you can take your hands off the wheel, and your commute becomes restful or productive instead of frustrating and exhausting.””
Why the Push From the White House?
In 2015, there were around 40,000 auto-related accidents that caused deaths. That is the deadliest year in terms of car accidents since 2008. According to the National Safety Council, 2015 was the highest year-over-year increase in percentage within 50 years.
It’s no secret that the reason for the vast majority of these accidents is human error. The government expresses that it’s high time to reduce such human error with the use of technology. It’s the aforementioned unfortunate and grim data that propels the government to be serious in paving the way for self-driving cars.
Despite getting the government’s support, driverless car manufacturers must adhere to the guidelines that were recently issued jointly by, Mr. Zients and Anthony Foxx, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The regulations have given confidence to motorists that these vehicles will not operate with any oversight.
In the same breadth, technology companies and car manufacturers were encouraged not to fear the regulations. The United States Department of Transportation has released a set of guidelines for self-driving cars. In short, the guidelines will regulate how manufacturers handle:
- System Safety
- Digital Security
- Human-Machine Interface
- Crash worthiness
- Consumer Education
- Post-Crash Behavior
- Laws and Practices
- Ethical Considerations
- Operational Designs
- Detection and Response
Major target areas
The Transportation Department rolled out a 15 point safety standard to be used when designing and developing self-driving vehicles. The guidelines pointed out that federal states must draft uniform policies to guide driverless cars in conjunction with the already existing ones.
The 15-point safety standards cover a wide range of issues. Areas that have been covered include how driverless vehicles should react in case this technology fails, what measures to put in place to guarantee passenger privacy, how the passengers will be protected in case a crash occurs, how car manufacturers should approach these cars’ digital security, and how these cars can share information with the passengers and other road users.
The Department of Transportation also encouraged autonomous car manufacturers to showcase how this technology is valid and how they will share information collected by this vehicles. Additionally, the agency reaffirmed that it will not relent in recalling fully autonomous and semi-autonomous cars that will be found to be unsafe for use.
It was noted that the guidelines issued were not specific on safety requirements compared to those imposed on normal human driven cars. The agency, however, clarified that the areas it left unspecified were intentional. They only needed to outline areas that needed to be addressed and leave the rest to the innovators.
Manufacturing loopholes available have already proven to be costly. Tesla Motors, one of the company’s manufacturing driverless cars, has been grappling with the fallout caused by the death of a Florida driver who was driving their car on autopilot mode. A crash was also reported in China involving one of the driverless cars that had its autopilot controls. Not only has the crash caused public weariness, but it’s given the government purpose in their intervention and regulation.
Enhanced safety measures
Following these tragic events, Tesla has put in place measures to enhance their cars safety. There are plans to download new safety software for its cars. According to Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, the new software will include improvements on autopilot that could have averted the Florida crash. Additionally, a more advanced insurance coverage in California will help avert the worries associated with driverless cars.
Accelerated Government support
There has been steady government support since the year 2013. In the year 2013, for instance, the government took interest in driverless cars for the first time. The government pledged more safety research on the technology and also gave some definitions for the technology. The president this week proposed a budget of $4 billion for driverless car technology research over the next 10 years.
According to the National Safety Council, close to 40,000 lives were lost through road carnage in US last year. The council observes that the carnage could be reduced through embracing autonomous cars, a view shared by President Obama in an editorial published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Welcomed by auto manufacturers
In the recent past, a good number of States have introduced regulations to govern driverless cars; something that has been welcomed by the auto manufacturers. According to Ford car manufacturer, the guidelines will enable safe deployment of autonomous cars. Uber, Google, and Lyft also praised the guidelines. According to David Strickland, a lawyer for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, both State and local governments should work together to ensure they remain world leaders in matters of innovation.
Conclusively, the government’s commitment towards driverless car technology has been hailed by many including consumer advocates that have said the laws will pressure companies that have been operating in secrecy. It is hoped that the government’s support will speed up the roll-out of autonomous vehicles in the next 5 years.